Anna Mae's smile

Anna Mae Pictou (Aquash) © photo by K. McKiernan

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After 20 Years

by Candy Hamilton
News From Indian Country

© Late March, 1996

[NOTE: All links to First Nations sites have been supplied by JS Dill who also suggests that visitors here jump to The net closes.. where you will find recent info re Anna and Her killers. Anna's site can be found here.]

A series of federal grand juries hearing testimony on a 20-year-old murder case on the Pine Ridge Reservation appeared to move off dead center last fall, but no arrests have resulted.

For over a year and a half, the panels have heard testimony about the murder of Anna Mae Pictou (Aquash), an American Indian Movement leader whose body was found Feb. 24, 1976, in a Badlands ravine near Wanblee, the most eastern community on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Although many federal grand juries in South Dakota have rushed to indict activist Indians on the flimsiest of evidence -- Leonard Peltier, for instance -- the grand juries considering Pictou's murder apparently want total confessions before issuing indictments.

Mary Lafford, Pictou's sister, says the current investigation has turned into still another ploy to raise hopes -- only to dash them again.

"They'll never do anything,"
said Mary Lafford, Anna Mae's sister,
on the anniversary when her sister's body
was found. She added that NO ONE
involved with the current investigation
has contacted her.

Hearing about the current grand juries has triggered many people's recollections, unofficial and amateur "investigation," and more piecing together of Pictou's last months. Unfortunately reaction to the official investigation also led to a barrage of charges and accusations from and against AIM members in the already faction-ridden movement. Letters, faxes, and phone calls fly.

For years Pictou's friends have acknowledged among themselves that only someone she knew could have gotten close enough to her to put her in a deadly situation. They also know that fears and anger about real informers planted by the FBI in AIM could surface against even dedicated activists if jealousies or antagonisms got out of hand.

"We knew Anna Mae since Wounded Knee," said Russell Loud Hawk, an elder in Oglala. "Everything was going to pieces. The traditional people didn't know who to turn to, so we asked Anna Mae and the boys to come." The boys included Dino Butler and Leonard Peltier along with three other men and women who lived in a one-room house without running water or electricity and worked with people in the community.

"She really dedicated herself to the Indians.
She was friendly and could talk to anyone.
She took a real interest in the old days,"
recalls, Russell Loud Hawk, an Oglala elder.

Information from AIM members who have looked into her death separately and independently of any official investigation indicates the murder occurred before the end of December 1975. Even people in different factions of AIM, already feuding before the current investigation began, set Pictou's murder within two weeks of her forced removal from a house in Denver (a situation long known among her friends and coworkers) and interrogation by AIM members at the Rapid City Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee offices in early December.

Among those certain of the December date death are some who accuse each other of involvement.

Gary Peterson, who conducted the second autopsy and found the bullet lodged in Pictou's left temple, said in a recent interview that the best way of figuring the date of her execution-style murder was determining reliably the last time she was seen. No "sightings" after early December have checked out as definitely reliable. One friend who for years has searched hard for answers to the mystery says she probably was dead less than two weeks after the Rapid City interrogation. That interrogation resulted from charges by some that she was an informer.

At that time, Pictou reached a friend
at Pine Ridge by telephone from Rapid City
and indicated that people she thought were allies
were mistreating her -- but before
she could say exactly where she was,
the call was terminated.

Over the years friends usually assumed she was killed in Denver or at some location on the Rosebud Reservation and moved to Wanblee, but two AIM sources say she was killed where she was found after being taken from Denver, to Rapid City, to a site at Rosebud Reservation, and finally to the Badlands near Wanblee.

If these assertions turn out to be true -- if the grand jury ever issues indictments and a trial occurs -- then the FBI failed to identify a well-known fugitive, give the correct cause of death, or handle identification of Pictou's body humanely. They also missed all the evidence at the site. Almost two weeks elapsed before they returned for a thorough search of the area where her body was found.

Rather than talk to her friends, the FBI spent a lot of time questioning Roger Amiotte, who found her body and had never met her. Even after he took and passed a lie detector test, Amiotte says, agents continued to accuse and harass him.

During that period Amiotte was not alone. "After the (June 26, 1976) shoot out," said William Muldrow, "the FBI was incensed. They went -- all out -- with about 300 agents on the reservation using armored vehicles, automatic weapons, wearing camouflage, manning roadblocks, surrounding homes, landing helicopters in people's yards. It was not an unobtrusive investigation and it terrified many reservation residents." Muldrow was then an investigator for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission's Denver office.

Some AIM members say the inept 1976 investigation of Pictou's murder doesn't indicate mistakes, but a buying of time to protect someone involved in the murder -- presumably the real FBI snitch. The same AIM members go on to say that the person they strongly believe pulled the trigger did so under orders, again probably from the FBI plant.

Presumably, the current investigation faces at least some of the same problems reporters run into -- mainly plenty of people willing to talk, speculate and accuse but unwilling to allow the use of their names or provide any information attributable to them.

Unlike the media, however, the U.S. attorney and U.S. marshal dealing with the grand jury can make arrests. Despite progress in the investigation, no one has been arrested or even jailed "to cooperate with the investigation," as the saying goes.

U.S. Marshall Robert Ecoffey said he cannot discuss a case before the grand jury, but now is the time for anyone concerned about this murder to come forward.

AIM member Charlie Long Soldier, who worked with Pictou Aquash in Oglala, says the current investigation should be thorough and complete, letting the chips fall where they may. "I'd like to see the real people exposed. They may be friends of mine, but something needs to be done," Long Soldier said.

The one thing all agree on - even those accusing each other - the FBI created the situation and climate where such a tragedy could occur. Paranoia over informers and very legitimate concern over the safety of AIM members, both fugitives and those still publicly active, had reached near terror by late 1975. It took little to see off arguments, fights and fears.

"It was hard to trust. Labeling separated people who were really on the same side," said Melvin Lee, who worked closely with Pictou in AIM. Almost no one, including Pictou, escaped occasional charges of being an informer.

Many believed this level of fear endangered people the FBI actually had planted within AIM groups - a documented situation with a number of people already identified as informers. Pictou became their scapegoat.

The best known of the real informants was Doug Durham, who participated in the Wounded Knee siege; assisted Dennis Banks to go underground as the siege ended; worked with WKLDOC in St. Paul during the Means-Banks trial; worked in AIM offices in Minneapolis; Des Moines, and Los Angeles; and became director of AIM security - all while he actually was a white man working for the FBI.

Durham's real identity emerged during the January 1975 Menomine Abbey takeover in Wisconsin. Then during the high-tension fall following the June 26, 1975, Oglala shoot out where the two FBI agents and a Nez Perce man were killed, the John Birch Society sponsored a speaking tour for Durham through Rapid City and Pine Ridge Reservation border towns in Nebraska. With his inflammatory speeches, Durham clearly intended to stir up the goons on the reservation and their non-Indian counterparts in the area. Both on and off the reservation ranchers were organized as the Posse Comitatus, a well armed group similar to today's white supremacist survivalists. Pictou's murder occurred within two months of Durham's tour.

Since June 26, cars full of FBI agents carrying automatic weapons and demanding answers and information from local people had become almost routine for Oglala residents. After the discovery of Pictou's body, the traditional leaders of the community issued a statement which said in part:

"We are concerned because we feel that her involvement as our ally probably brought her death. We want to know the truth about Anna Mae's death and the possibility of the government's involvement in it. Anna Mae Pictou was respected and loved by the people of Oglala. We mourn her and we urge all law abiding citizens to demand the real truth about her death.

Then they waited to see if a friend's murder would bring any action from the FBI. It didn't.

"If the Indians kill another FBI by golly they'll be coming in here like fleas again, but Anna Mae's an Indian," said Loud Hawk. "Just proves Indians are nothing to white people. I keep thinking a lawman got her that's why they're covering up. That always in my mind," he said. Loud Hawk is head of the traditional Tokala Society and one of the those who invited the AIM group to come to Oglala.

It took 20 years and the appointment of a Lakota as U.S. Marshall for South Dakota before an efficient, thorough investigation began. It remains to be seen if that investigation leads to a trial or more cover up by officials who may fear at worst it will lead too close to the FBI or at least reveal how poorly they handled the initial investigations.

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